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Zardari again scuttling UN probe into Benazir killing?


Islamabad: Is Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari again attempting to scuttle a UN probe into the assassination of his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto? It would seem so from the mixed signals emanating from Islamabad and the UN on Wednesday.

While it was announced in New York that the probe report would be handed over to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday, Zardari’s spokesman said in Islamabad that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had agreed to meet the probe commission any time before April 25.

This was seen to be a tactic to further delay the presentation of the probe report, which was originally scheduled for March 30 but which was deferred to April 15 at Zardari’s request.

Quoting reliable sources at the UN, Online news agency said that the head of the probe commission, Chilean diplomat Heraldo Munoz, had “shown reluctance” to meet Pakistan’s envoys to the UN and to Washington “who want to create hurdles for delaying the report thick and thin”.

The (Pakistani) government “is trying its level best to make the report… controversial,” it quoted the sources as saying.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Karzai had agreed to meet the UN commission at Zardari’s request.

He said Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the UN Hussain Haroon had been advised by the Foreign Office to convey Karzai’s willingness to the chairman of the probe commission.

According to Babar, since Karzai was the last world leader to meet Benazir Bhutto, his statement was vital.

The spokesman said Zardari had also written to former US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice requesting her to meet the probe commission “for providing a perspective on the background and context of the assassination”.

In seeking to delay the report the last time around, Zardari had contended that the warnings issued by three heads of state on the threats to Bhutto’s life be incorporated in the document.

However, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky had been quoted as saying that the commission had “seen a considerable amount of relevant information, including what has been in the news media in recent days” and “after conferring in light of the latest information, they continue to say that they have completed their work”.

“The commissioners have informed the United Nations that the report is complete,” Nesirky added.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had immediately distanced himself from Zardari’s request, saying that the government had not asked the UN to delay the release of the probe report.

Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack Dec 27, 2007 as she left a political rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan had in July 2008 sought a UN probe into Bhuttto’s killing after its own investigations and one by Scotland Yard failed to make headway.

This is largely because the spot where Bhutto was killed was hosed down soon after, destroying whatever evidence that could have been gathered.

The UN probe had begun in June 2009 and is believed to have cost the Pakistani government Rs.200 million.